Gillian Russell

Philosophy Professor

Phil 3481 : Introduction to Metaphysics (Spring 2013)

Class Times: Tuesdays and Thursdays, 2.30-4pm
Location: Psychology 249
Course Website:

Instructor: Professor Gillian Russell
Office hours: Tuesdays 4-5pm or by appointment
Office Location: 209 Wilson Hall
Email: grussell – at – wustl – dot – edu

Teaching Assistant: John Gabriel
Office hours: 2-2.30pm Tues and Thurs or by appointment
Email: jgabriel22 – at – wustl – dot – edu

This course is an introduction to metaphysics for students who are new to the subject. The only prerequisiste is one 100 or 200-level course in philosophy.

Metaphysics is sometimes described as the study of what there is, but this does little to distinguish it from just about every other discipline and, in practice, metaphysics – like philosophy more generally – is more easily explained through examples of the kinds of problems with which it engages.

What is it to say that something exists? Is there anything which does not exist?
What is it to act freely? Does anyone ever act freely?
Is time real? Does the future exist? Is time travel possible? What is required for survival over time? (e.g. what makes you the same person as the person who first enrolled in this class under your name?)

Our focus in this course will be on the topics of causation and laws of nature, free will and determinism, mental states and personal identity, time and time travel, and material objects and their properties.


We will use a single textbook, Carroll and Markosian’s Introduction to Metaphysics. This is the only book you need to buy. We will also study some more difficult research papers (not written at an introductory level) which will be linked to from the course website or available on electronic reserves.

To access some of these articles from off-campus you will need to log in to the library proxy first.

Readings, Topics and Homework Assignments

Tuesday 15th January – Arguments and their Properties

Reading: Introduction (from the textbook)
Important concepts: arguments, validity, soundness, induction, inference to the best explanation

Thursday 17th January – Causation

Reading: “Causation” in Carroll and Markosian (henceforth C&M)

Tuesday 22nd January

Causation” – David Lewis

Thursday 24th January

Reading: “The Metaphysics of Causation” – Jonathan Schaffer.

(And you should watch L.A. Paul and Ned Hall on TV.)

Tuesday 29th January – Freedom and Determinism

Reading: “Freedom and Determinism” in C&M.

Thursday 31st January

Alternate possibilities and Moral Responsibility” – Harry Frankfurt.

Tuesday 5th February

Freedom and Resentment” – Peter Strawson

Thursday 7th February

Arguments for Incompatablism” – Kadri Vihvelin

Tuesday 12th February – Laws of Nature

“Laws of Nature” in C&M.

Thursday 14th February – Personal Identity

“Personal Identity” in C&M

Tuesday 19th February

The Self and The Future” – Bernard Williams

Thursday 21st February

Chapter 1 of Reasons and PersonsPersonal Identity” – Derek Parfit

Tuesday 26th February

Survival and Identity” – David Lewis

Thursday 28th February

Reid on Memory and Personal Identity” – Rebecca Copenhaver

Tuesday 5th March – Mental States

“Mental States” in C&M

Thursday 7th March

Functionalism” – Janet Levin

Tuesday 12th March


Thursday 14th March


Tuesday 19th March

“Time” in C&W

Thursday 21st March – Time

The Unreality of Time” – J.E.M. McTaggart

Tuesday 26th March

How fast does time pass?” – Ned Markosian

Thursday 28th March

Midterm Exam (in class)

Tuesday 2nd April

TBATemporal Parts” – Katherine Hawley

Thursday 4th April


Tuesday 9th April

Goodbye Growing Block” – Trenton Merricks

Thursday 11th April

The Paradoxes of Time Travel” – David Lewis

Tuesday 16th April

Future Contingents and Relative Truth” – John MacFarlane

Thursday 18th April – Material Objects

“Material Objects” in C&M

Tuesday 23rd April

Chapter 3 of Material Beings – Peter van Inwagen

Thursday 25th April

The Statue and The Clay” – Judy Jarvis Thompson


20% – short paper (400 words max.) due on Wednesday 13th February. I will be giving out a list of paper questions.
40% – midterm examination on Thursday 28th March.
40% – long paper (2000 words max) (due May 2nd – the first day of exam week.) I will be giving out a list of paper questions.

There is no final exam.

For students taking the course pass/fail, the minimum letter grade required for a pass will be a C-.

Drafts – John and I are happy to look at drafts of your papers, but if you are giving one of us a draft to look at we must have it one week before the paper is due. This is to give us time to read your draft carefully and write comments on it, and you time to redraft in response to those comments before you turn the final version of your paper in. Drafts submitted later than this will not be looked at.

All papers should be turned in to the “turn in” filing cabinet in the philosophy department office on the 2nd floor of Wilson Hall by 3.30pm on the day they are due. (The office closes at 4pm, and the people who work there like to be on their way home at 4.05pm, not unlocking doors for students with a late paper.) Please use a single paper clip to hold the pages together. Pages should be numbered, with your name on the final page. Do not put your student number or social security number on your paper. Any well-known, consistent citation method is acceptable. Your paper should finish with a bibliography, listing the texts you read while pursuing research on the paper, including any texts cited.

Resources for Paper Writing

Academic Integrity

Students suspected of plagiarism or any other form of academic dishonesty or misconduct will be reported to the academic integrity officer for Arts and Sciences (currently Dean Killen), so that the incident may be handled in a consistent, fair manner, and so that substantiated charges of misconduct may be noted in students’ records.

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